Confusing order allows local gov’t to reduce front-liners’ hazard pay
SAN PEDRO CITY — The recent death of a government nurse in Cainta town in Rizal province exposed confusing government guidelines on health workers’ hazard pay, an issue which the nurse’s daughter said is bigger than the monetary compensation and tackles the plight of pandemic front-liners.
Ma. Theresa Cruz, 47, died on July 22, three days before her swab test results showed that she was infected with the coronavirus.
The mother of three worked as a nurse at the Cainta Municipal Hospital since 2011, her first four years on a “job order” status.
As a “job order” nurse, Cruz’s monthly salary then was only P4,000, for which she would “queue up along with the street sweepers” at the municipal hall, her family said.
Cruz was the first front-liner who died of the disease in Cainta, which has recorded 213 cases as of Aug. 13.
She became a regular employee in 2015 and had since received a monthly pay of P21,000, said Cainta Mayor Johnielle Keith Nieto.
She also received the hazard pay for nurses, roughly P240 a day, according to Department of Health (DOH) Regional Director Eduardo Janairo.
When the pandemic struck in March, the government issued Administrative Order No. 26, which grants hazard pay to front-line government personnel “in an amount not exceeding P500” for each day the employee reported for work.
Just a ceiling
This was where it became tricky, specially for front-line workers who expected an extra P500 a day on top of their basic salary and existing hazard pay.
“Clearly, my mom was one of the many front-line workers who had no idea about AO 26 and who just relied on the news and announcements [of the] DOH,” said Cruz’s daughter, Joie, in an open letter, Friday.
“Do we expect our nurses to read these legal issuances while they are busy risking their lives on the front line?” she added.
In separate interviews, Nieto and Janairo said the P500 was the “ceiling” set by the national government for the COVID-19 hazard pay.
“[The amount] would still depend on the capacity of the [local government units, or LGUs, to pay],” Janairo said.
In the case of Cainta, a first-class municipality, Nieto said they pegged the COVID-19 hazard pay at P300.
Nieto said the bulk of the municipal fund went to response efforts, like financial aid to residents who lost their jobs.
In smaller and poorer towns, the COVID-19 hazard pay was way below, “that some were giving only P150 to P200,” Nieto added.
The COVID-19 hazard pay was also not an add-on allowance for public workers with existing hazard pays before the pandemic, since doing so would constitute double compensation, a practice prohibited in the Constitution, the mayor said.
In Cruz’s case, the municipal government paid her about P60 a day—the difference between P300 and her P240 hazard pay—for 33 days of work during the quarantine.
The family was able to claim P7,000, much less than what Cruz and her coworkers expected.
Joie said Cruz looked forward to her hazard pay so she could buy her youngest daughter’s homeschool supplies.
The municipal government gave the family P50,000 financial assistance. Cruz was also eligible for the P1-million government compensation for front-liners who died due to the disease, Janairo said.
But Joie said the issue was bigger than the “monetary value.” It was rather how front-liners were “exploited … and treated way way below what [they] deserved,” she said.
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